REAL Recall – Matching Advancements in Practice Management and Clinical Dentistry
Dentistry has been practiced since 7,000 BC and “Modern” dentistry began with the establishment of the first dental school, Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, in 1840. Since that time, now nearly 170 years later, clinical knowledge and technology have advanced considerably.
Today’s dental office is far more effective and efficient than its counterpart from one hundred years ago. Yet, many office’s business systems appear to have never evolved with their clinic. Modern dentistry is performed using drill technology that has advanced light years from its initial implementation. A dentists now also utilize air abrasion and lasers! Clinical dentistry has come “a long way baby….” as Livvie Matthews points out in her great article. And yet, the average business office that supports them still tries to operate out of a shoe box to mail announcements, reminders, and notices to patients (AND will rationalize and justify why this is a “good” thing!).
Does Patient Perception Matter?
Patient perception of how “modern” an office is – while seemingly intangible – is far more valuable than almost any other aspect of marketing and management. It directly impacts case acceptance, appointment compliance, referrals to other friends and family, and overall practice production. Handing a person a blank card for them to hand-write their own appointment reminder TODAY is the equivalent of inviting them into a dental practice that still uses a stone-aged bow-drill….it does not inspire confidence or provide anything to brag about.
Since the clinical team has the technology chair-side to impress the patient with Jedi skills (which, unfortunately, most patients often fail to notice), should not the main stage also be set with identical capabilities? Luke Skywalker did not ONLY have a light saber that was rarely used…..he had both C-3PO and R2-D2 beside him providing him with information AND doing a great deal of work autonomously! Every modern dental office today can and should have the same level of artificial intelligence working in the office – 24 x 7 – 365 days a year
Get Ready, Here Comes the Future of Dental Recall Systems!
Each patient is unique in their dental needs and challenges. While the advertising industry has imprinted everyone with the concept “Visit your dentist twice a year”, we all know that patients may actually require a different visit frequency. This schedule is normally determined and documented in the practice management system (PMS) used by your clinical team. This key information, along with the date of last cleaning (not to be confused with the date of last visit) is vital to know when a patient is “due” to visit the office again – for an actual cleaning. At each patient’s visit, they may choose to commit to a future appointment (that they may or may not keep…) or they may choose to wait to make an appointment until the time gets nearer. Either decision creates a bunch of “future work” for the office, that either can be handled as best as possible (i.e. inefficiently with all of the normal day to day transactions), or can be given to the artificial intelligence to handle flawlessly.
For the patient that DID make an appointment 6 months from now:
Manual Approach: The current manual challenge is to correctly write up and hand patients a little appointment card (that will be lost somewhere between the front desk and the parking lot…) and then wait. Hopefully, anywhere between 4 to 6 months from now, a staff member will have the time to generate printed reminder cards (if the office is semi-modern) or alternatively pull hand written cards (of which many no longer are relevant) and get them into the mail with the hope that the patient will arrive at the appointment made 6 months ago.
Automated Approach: If an “artificial intelligence” is given the job, the dedication to detail is far greater and provides the patient with a “wow” factor that they will share with their friends. As the patient is checking out from the current cleaning appointment, and commits to that time 6 months in the future – they will receive a “Save the Date” email that will meet them when they get to their office / home where it will have a much greater probability of being added to their “official” calendar and remembered. As the actual appointment draws nearer, the computer (with no need for human intervention to run reports, start tasks, etc) will know when to start “reminding” patients that they have an appointment – and will do this using a variety of tools including e-mail, text-messaging, automated phone call, and yes – even a postcard (you want to have a 100% solution). On the day of the appointment, the computer can (and will) send reminder text messages to make sure that last minute distractions do not result in an idle chair, a bored hygienist, and a frantic conversation with the patient 10 minutes after their appointment start time.
For the patient that did NOT make an appointment for 6 months from now:
Yes, I am one of those (And yes there are many more like me. How do I know what will happen six months from now?) who checkout and will “call back” to make an appointment 6 months from now. Better yet, I’ll just “wait for the notice” to arrive in the mail?
Manual approach: The current manual challenge is to keep up with all of these “patients of record – but not on the book” people to try to get them converted back to actual made appointments (which then must be cared for in the same manner above!). Hopefully with the help of a practice management system – some team member, when they have the time, will run the necessary reports on a regular enough schedule to identify a bunch of patients that need to be “worked on”. This work would be phone calling or loading cards into a printer to print / stamp / mail. The importance of this task is critical, yet it relies on many faulty components – starting with the practice management system (of which many do NOT accurately identify patients that need to be contacted), the knowledge of the tasks and systems by ever changing staff members, and the actual time available to DO the work.
Automated Approach: When an “artificial intelligence” (Again, think R2D2 and C3PO here) takes on this critical job in real time, it is analyzing every patient and appointment to know WHO is on recall but not currently scheduled for a recall appointment. The computer will then use all of the tools mentioned above to insure the correct message is sent at the correct time resulting in an appointment being made (and then doing everything mentioned above to make sure the appointment is kept). If the patient is non-responsive to every “touch” (e-mail, text, postcard, etc.) the computer will NOT allow the patient to fall through the crack and will continue to contact patients that are past-due AND will send notices to the office staff for occasional assistance (so a person can talk to them when it is actually needed). This will provide the office with the double benefit of KNOWING a critical aspect of the office is covered (no vacations, no sick days, no holidays) and more “found time” is now available for staff members to focus on items that require a personal touch.
Once the artificial intelligence is turned on in the office and the key tasks are taken care of, there are many other items that can be added to the chore list:
– Chart Audit / Reactivation (done daily instead whenever….)
– Morning Huddle Report (review of yesterday, today and tomorrow)
– Remote Access to office from smart phones and other devices
– Confirmation calling and texting (what more people are expecting)
– Statistical analysis and review of office activities and status
Most modern practices today can enable these automated systems for pennies a day. This addition to your practice management system will help your practice be perceived as a modern, “leading edge” healthcare provider. Just as Luke Skywalker had his choice of robots, you have a variety of choices for automated practice management services. A dental appointment book and dental patients is very special and has many subtle nuances (like differentiating between a cleaning visit versus a restorative visit or knowing the cleaning interval of each specific patient) that you want to make sure the artificial intelligence you “hire” (they are just a robot applying for a job) is aware of. Lastly, which ever artificial intelligence you hire should be expected to show up and work each day – with no contract required. As long as they are meeting your needs, you will continue to use them for everyone’s benefit. If they cannot perform the job as you expect – or someone better comes along – you should NOT be forced to continue doing business with them because of a contract……unless you are getting the same contractual commitment from your patients?
Allen Jorgensen is a front office manager for his wife’s practice started from scratch in 1994 as an all digital and chartless practice. Over the years he has applied his 30+ years of commercial data processing experience to automate every aspect of a traditional dental office. North Gwinnett Dental Care is located in Sugar Hill Georgia and continues to host office tours for anyone interested in seeing how a 15+ year digital office operates. Allen is also the CFO of Lighthouse Practice Management Group which provides automation solutions to dental offices around the world. For more information visit www.lpmg360.com or call 888-427-5454 x 88